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I have guitars that don't stay in tune well - some have tremolos, some not.

I haven't done a google search yet - but I'm sure some here may be able to help me pinpoint that search by sharing an order of things to check. I would like to methodically figure out what is preventing my guitars from staying in tune starting at "the beginning".

Any tips are appreciated - my current list based on things I've read 1.) winding of strings 2.) tremolo system 3.) bridge 4.) nut 5.) weather 6.) wood of the guitar

To eliminate these issues - would locking tuners and a non-floating bridge be a good place to start ?

Also to share one interesting new gadget I hadn't heard of - anybody come across or try this special nut out ? - the nut buster (lol - great name)


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Starting at the tuner, are you winding the strings in a single neat layer around the post?

The string should have a reasonably sharp bend where it exits the tuner hole so that the string begins winding close to the post. The windings should progress downward along the post in a single layer for about three wraps total. There are a few different ways for anchoring the string to a standard tuner. I will try to post a drawing of the one I use, as it's hard to describe.

Many recommend that the strings be "stretched" after bringing them up to pitch. They are not really being stretched, but just fully seating the ends of the strings at the tuner and bridge. To "stretch" them, grap each string at about its midpoint, and pull it away from the fretboard about one inch a few times. I find that when the strings are properly installed, "stretching" is usually not required.

Also, always tune up to pitch, never down. If you end up too sharp when tuning, lower it back down until flat, and bring it up to pitch once again. Friction and gear backlash can prevent the tuning post from following the tuning gear downward completely when tuning down. Then, sometime later, the post slips and takes up the backlash, and the string goes flat.

Finally, turn the tuning key to wind the string onto the post. Don't just wrap it around the post like wrapping cord around a spool. That will put a twist the string.

Fixed bridges, and decked tremolos that only dive, are generally not sources of tuning problems.

Nuts can be a problem if any slots are too tight, causing the string to bind. In that case the string can end up with unequal tension on either side of the nut. Then sometime later the string slips to equalize the tension and the pitch changes. Slot binding at the nut is especially a problem with tremolos. Even if the strings are not binding, graphite or a commercial nut slot lube can also be necessary.

Floating tremolos are notorious for not always returning to pitch. The problem is usually friction somewhere in the movement, especially with the 6 screw mounted types. Tremolos need to be installed carefully to prevent any friction. There are mechanisms that are designed to always return a floating tremolo to the same position, but I haven't tried any of them.

Exactly what type of tuning instability are you having?
Just a string or two going out?
All strings going flat, or all going sharp?

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My guitars rarely have tuning issues once I get them tuned. Don't have time for a story right now but I will check in later with a tuning story


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Graphite for bridge and nut slots helps a lot to prevent binding and then slipping which results in being out of tune as already mentioned. Meticulous winding when installing is vital. Slapping them on and then willy-nilly winding results in slippage and tuning issues every time. It could be as bad as having a faulty tuner with bad gearing maybe or just worn out, it happens. Les Paul style guitars are notorious for the G string going out, something about the design and angle of the string? I can't remember now. If you don't know how to do it, having a professional setup of your guitars can produce amazing results. I have all the tools and measuring devices etc. and it is not hard to learn but is a skill that guitarists need, or at least need to pay for! You find a good Luthier and have them inspect all the guitars. There could be issues that you don't know about causing the problem, some if not most are easily remedied by a professional. Do some research if you go the Luthier route. There are good and bad ones just like anything else.


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Sperzel locking tuners are great. No winding. You thread the string through a hole in the post, tighten the thumb wheel that secures it, and tune. Sometimes the 1st string winds a bit more than one turn, and the other five never get one complete wind on the post.

After replacing the strings, they stretch and seat quicker, and that also helps.

My Parker guitars have them, plus a straight string path from ball end to the tuner with just the slightest break at the nut. It has a whammy bar, and often stays in tune from one gig to the next.

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I think the Sperzels are worth the money.

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This morning I didn't have time to relate this story. I had to finish breakfast, load the dog and head out to assist with a search for a missing boater on a river.

The tuning story: I was in a house band and the other guitarist had a really nice strat. He paid a lot of money for the guitar and it was worth it.
I was playing my 69 SG. I never had tuning issues but he had nothing but tuning issues. He'd tune up and 2 songs into the set he'd be messing with the guitar to get it back in tune. He took it to a luthier and paid for a complete set-up and adjustment. Next show..... Same thing. Out of tune within 2 songs.
After commiserating with him I suggested swapping guitars for the next set. We did. We tuned up before the set.
Within 2 songs my SG was noticeably out of tune while his strat played the entire set perfectly fine and in tune the whole time.

Turned out it wasn't the guitar. It was his playing technique that was taking the guitar he was playing out of tune.


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So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.


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Originally Posted by musiclover
So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.

Essentially, yes.


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Originally Posted by Guitarhacker
Originally Posted by musiclover
So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.

Essentially, yes.

What gauge string was he using? If he wasn't he should have been using 13s as they may have helped his tuning problems.


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Originally Posted by MarioD
Originally Posted by Guitarhacker
Originally Posted by musiclover
So basically it was a case of the other guitarist being too heavy handed on his strumming pattern.

Essentially, yes.

What gauge string was he using? If he wasn't he should have been using 13s as they may have helped his tuning problems.

I do believe he was in fact using a heavier gauge string set that I was. I've always used EBSS .009 on my electrics. I want to say he was using .010s at least. I use 011 on my acoustics.

I was in a band with a different guitarist who was using those .013s. Claimed he liked them for the tone. He played a Les Paul Gold top so not only was he killing his shoulder every night..... yep, he complained about how heavy that axe was..... but he also had strings that essentially prevented any kind of serious string bending and yep... he complained about that as well.


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Originally Posted by Guitarhacker
I do believe he was in fact using a heavier gauge string set that I was. I've always used EBSS .009 on my electrics. I want to say he was using .010s at least. I use 011 on my acoustics.

I was in a band with a different guitarist who was using those .013s. Claimed he liked them for the tone. He played a Les Paul Gold top so not only was he killing his shoulder every night..... yep, he complained about how heavy that axe was..... but he also had strings that essentially prevented any kind of serious string bending and yep... he complained about that as well.

That guitarist must have been a winner! You can't do serious string bending on 13s when it is standard tuning.

I use different string gauges on my guitars, from 8s on my Tele to 13 flat wounds on a jazz box. You know which one goes out of tune the most.


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Notes Norton is correct.

Sperzel's (or equivalent) are what you want.
As a guitar player its makes short order of changing strings.
I don't even think about wraps on wound strings.
Just pull them through and off we go.
For some reason (habit) i do take 2-3 wraps on the 2 plain strings

First thing I do to a new guitar is put 'em on if if it doesnt come with it.

Most all of the guitars built today are incredible how well they stay in tune.

Its just not an issue anymore, at least to me.
I currently play 3 guitars in rotation at gigs. 2 Telecasters and a PRS.


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With the guitar itself.... The tuners are crucial. They have to be well built and smooth. Nothing sucks like hearing pings as you tune up.

I wrap the wound strings 2x and then the amount required to get it tuned. The plain strings get 3 wraps and the slack.

Pull them a little bit and they'll stay in tune nicely.

My SG has a tremelo and it's a bit touchy. I don't use the tremelo bar.


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You mentioned a Strat …

Another trick that most guitarists probably already know. If you have a whammy bar, before tuning the guitar, wiggle it, especially in the down position, a few times.

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Thanks all for your thoughtful and helpful comments...now that I'm playing more often I can pay better attention. I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.

Probably my bigger issue is string height - which I know is a trickier nut to crack...I realize I need to have a professional do it. I have to watch some videos on this - I'm willing to do the relatively "easier" parts of a setup - which seems to me to be most of it except taking the neck off...but I realize I need to make sure that the neck does not need to be taken off before I try the other things. I would only try this on my less expensive guitars but I need to watch some how-to videos first, including learning the sequence in which to check things, as well as what tools to acquire. Any tips or links to videos greatly appreciated.

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Originally Posted by Joe Videtto2
Thanks all for your thoughtful and helpful comments...now that I'm playing more often I can pay better attention. I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.

Probably my bigger issue is string height - which I know is a trickier nut to crack...I realize I need to have a professional do it. I have to watch some videos on this - I'm willing to do the relatively "easier" parts of a setup - which seems to me to be most of it except taking the neck off...but I realize I need to make sure that the neck does not need to be taken off before I try the other things. I would only try this on my less expensive guitars but I need to watch some how-to videos first, including learning the sequence in which to check things, as well as what tools to acquire. Any tips or links to videos greatly appreciated.


Actually you don't have to have a professional set your string height. A good straightedge to check the neck and fret height to be sure there's no problems with the neck. I took my SG to a luthier to get an idea of the cost to do a couple of things that I felt should be addressed. I was having a slight buzz on a fret on a certain string. Nothing huge but irritating and solvable if I raised the action. He said the neck had a slight curve but was also warped and had a twist in it. Nothing that would render it unplayable and barely perceptible. The frets were worn and installing new frets would go a long way towards getting the guitar back to a "like new" condition. HOWEVER..... isn't there always a "however?" The decorative binding on the side of the neck was cracked in multiple places on both top and bottom and removing it in a good enough condition to replace it would likely be impossible. New binding would not be a color match. The missing neck fret marker would certainly not match the color due to age and yellowing. And the additional work needed on the guitar.... I was wanting to refinish it to it's original factory red...... well, the price was not affordable. Way more then the cost of a new guitar and in the end, he said he really didn't feel comfortable working on the fret job due to the age and condition of the wood and the binding. So, I opted to spend considerably less and bought a new guitar and simply raised the bridge to lose the buzzing. It's certainly playable and with almost no difference in feel.

Then it's a matter of lowering the strings from the bridge which is adjustable in height either as a group or individually depending on the bridge used on the guitar. I'm not a luthier but I have adjusted the string height and intonation on my guitars that are adjustable with good results. I lower the strings until they start to buzz on one of the frets. This will generally be higher on the neck. Once you hit that point, it's the lowest you can go without bottoming the string. So at this point I raise the string until it stops buzzing and then go slightly further to add clearance. Repeat this for all 6 strings. If you have a bridge like I have on my SG.... I have to check all 6 strings to be sure none of them buzz anywhere. I have a bridge that has 2 adjustment screws so I can only raise or lower them as a group with more movement given to the side with the screw that I'm adjusting. It's necessary to check every string on every fret and find that happy medium. Once you have your height set satisfactorily, and the intonation set for the strings, you can move on to adjusting the pickup height and poles assuming you have an electric guitar.

Acoustic guitars often do not have adjustable bridges in the same way that electric guitars do. So if that is the case, you may wish to employ the services of a luthier for that job. My acoustics were fairly decent so I haven't messed with them however, the bridge on them has a removable string saddle that can be filed down. Be very careful when filing because it's not as easy to raise the strings as it is to lower them. A buddy back in the day decided to lower his action on his guitar and ended up having to buy a new saddle and start over.

So... certainly watch a few videos and get an understanding of the job and then decide if you want to tackle it or not.


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If you want to be very serious about setup and get as accurate as you can with measurements you can use the Music Nomad tools. Here is a link to look. MusicNomad Precision Setup Tools
I use all their tools. A little pricey probably but I find them to be very good. They are professional tools. Plenty of Luthiers use them. Comes with clear instructions and also you can find any number of videos showing how to use every tool. They have everything from action setting gauges, nut height, neck relief (truss rod gauge) for both acoustic and electric guitars and basses. The fretboard radius gauge is helpful as it guides you to the right action setting tools etc. Hard to put down in print but their instructions include pictures and the videos you can watch are very helpful as well.


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Originally Posted by Joe Videtto2
<...snip,...> I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.<...>
Is the temperature where the guitar is constant?

It's my experience that as the temperature gets colder, the guitar goes sharp. The strings contract in the cold and expand when it's warm.

My sax does the opposite. When it gets colder, the sax gets flatter. I've been told that when it's colder out, the sound moves slower, and that makes the sax seem longer.

In all the guitar bands I've been in, since the sax has only one tuner, I'd have to adjust the sax to stay in tune with the guitars.

Now that I also play guitar, and I gig 3 or 4 days a week outdoors, and use backing tracks that I make myself, when the temperature shifts from day to day, I see the general trend of sharper when cold, flatter when warm.

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Is the temperature where the guitar is constant?
Originally Posted by Notes Norton
[quote=Joe Videtto2]<...snip,...> I find that several of my strings often become sharp after the guitar sitting for a day or two - not all, but I haven't really kept records.<...>

Well, I live in a house in NYC where we shut the heat off at night - so probably this explains it.

As long as the action doesn't dramatically change with temperature changes, I suppose I shouldn't worry about this.

Last edited by Joe Videtto2; 01/02/24 07:51 AM.
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I don't know the limits of temperature change on the truss rod. Since it is also metal, I suppose it goes through the expanding and contracting situation with temperature.

Perhaps someone with more technical guitar knowledge can comment.


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